Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Writing (as opposed to Arithmetic) on the Frontier

AUGUST 17th, 1890, PESHAWAR...

Celebrated poet, author, and journalist Reginald Winkie... 

Welcomes a new arrival from Jolly Old Albion to the offices of the Peshawar Tribune -- one Neville Crisp...

Neville Crisp is late of the London-based weekly, Horse & Hound, where his many splendid articles were well-received, yet he himself felt the true breadth of his talents remained unfulfilled...

So he has decided to throw himself into The Arena of Empire and seek out True Narratives of blood, fury, and affairs of state!

Like many fellow Britons, young Neville Crisp is an admirer and devotee of Reginald Winkie, which has ed him to choose the North-West Frontier as the cockpit of action to which he should proceed...

Before leaving London he dashed off a telegram to his hero at Peshawar, explaining his situation and informing Mr. Winkie of his coming arrival and humbly requesting an audience with the great man-of-letters himself.  He hopes to come away with at worst some good advice and at best provisional employment under the universally admired masthead of The Peshawar Tribune.

Telegrams, letters, and even full diaries of devotion from his enthusiasts (whom he has lately taken to referring to as his "fans") are nothing new for Reginald Winkie, Esq., and yet... something about this one has stuck in his craw -- for Crisp had the immodest audacity to send along some of his published articles in an effort to convince the great man that he was a legitimate professional wordsmith rather than a gasbag.  And Crisp succeeded in this, as Winkie was surprised to find himself impressed by Crisp's well-crafted and compelling tales of otherwise trifling ponies and pooches.

And so dear reader we arrive at August 17th, 1890, one day prior to publication of the latest issue of The Peshawar Tribune, at the building which houses that storied periodical...

...which was the very same day young aspiring "Man-In-The-Field Correspondent" Neville Crisp arrived at Reginald Winkie's office on the 2nd story of that very same storied building...

NEVILLE CRISP: "I can't thank you enough for agreeing to see me, Mr. Winkie, sir..."

REGINALD WINKIE: "Call me, Reggie, Crisp.  Here at the Pesh Trib we don't stand much on ceremony. Tell me... why are you wearing a Poshteen in August?  You do know it's sweltering hot around these parts for yet another month or two at least."

NEVILLE CRISP: "I'm afraid I'd heard anyone with firsthand experience of the Frontier wears a Poshteen, and I didn't want to give the impression I was a greenhorn -- plus it's got 'posh' in it."

REGINALD WINKIE: "I see.  Well, I admit you cut a sharp figure in it -- but you do risk death from heat stroke."

NEVILLE CRISP: "I hope you don't mind if I change the subject, Reggie, sir, and ask if you've had a chance to read any of the samples I sent...?"

REGINALD WINKIE: "Indeed I have.  They took me by surprise and left me impressed.  So much so in fact, that I'm prepared here and now to offer you a position as a stringer.  Strictly freelance, paying 1 Anna per page.  It's 16 Annas to the Rupee, and 15 Rupees to the Pound, and a page here at the Pesh Trib is the standard 250 words."

NEVILLE CRISP: "I was prepared to jump at the chance to be published in the same paper as you for free, and... I think that fits with your offer, sir -- Reggie, that is -- so I'll take it."

REGINALD WINKIE: "Excellent.  You'll start straight-away.  Meaning right now.  My sources tell me 2nd Brigade will march for our Dargai Cantonments tomorrow morning -- but our recent reinforcement of Royal Horse Artillery will leave tonight!  Come have a look at the route they'll be taking..."

NEVILLE CRISP: "Egads but that's very specific and valuable military intelligence, ain't it, Reggie?!"

REGINALD WINKIE: "It better be.  I don't cotton to second-rate goods.  Which is why I'm sending a first-class scribbler like you with them.  You shall gather information and write articles on anything and everything of interest you come across.  I'm especially curious to know if there's any truth to the rumor a pair of Englishwomen have been camping out with General Ruff-Husband and his Brigade for days -- even weeks -- on end.  And if they do exist, are they really sisters on their way to celebrate the 50th Birthday of their Sgt. Maj. father who's serving in Tirah... or is that a load of bullocks to cover up some manner of twisted Continental debauchery?  And what of that Dirka Grimm Bhisti fellow I wrote my celebrated poem about?  I've never met him myself you understand -- just got a copy of his file from the barracks adjutant.  The question is... is he really all they cracked him up to be... or is he more of a scheming untouchable type looking to pilfer shot and shell to sell to his Afridi cousins outside the Cantonment wire?  I've also heard talk of wild goings-on in Waziristan by General Mandrake... and word of Mad Colonel Fullerton pillaging the Tochi Valley in ways that would make the Cossacks blush... and to top it all off there's a rumor of some lunatic native pretender to the throne of the entire Punjab, who calls himself 'Mule Hoof'?!  These matters must all be confirmed or denied with dispatch.  These are the burning questions a penetrating journalistic-slash-poetic brain needs answered!  But sadly... at this point in my illustrious career... editorial, managerial and commercial duties cut far too deep into the time I have to get away and enjoy myself with our boys out on The Grim.  But you, Crisp -- lucky man that you are -- have no such competing demands upon your time and attention.  Isn't that right...?"

NEVILLE CRISP: "Oh, yes.  Quite right.  But... how exactly I am to embed myself with this unit of Royal Horse Artillery?  Despite my khaki-clothed appearance, I'm 100% civilian."

REGINALD WINKIE: "No worries, old bean.  I'm on close terms with Captain Elliot Hardigan, the Battery Commander.  In fact he's out on my veranda right now, sketching a skyline vista for our "Panoramas of Peshawar" section."

NEVILLE CRISP: "He must be quite the renaissance man."

REGINALD WINKIE: "Not by a long shot, but the sketch ain't what matters -- what matters is the connection.  Out here on the Frontier the ink-stained hand washes the gunpowder-stained, and vice-versa.  You Savvy?"

NEVILLE CRISP: "Certainly, sir.  Sounds a lot like how we dealt with the racing stable-owners back at Horse & Hound."

REGINALD WINKIE: "I knew you'd get the hang!  Now head out onto my veranda, introduce yourself to good Captain Hardigan, and see to it that you ride along with his Battery tonight.  Do so and I promise you'll soon see your name on that roll of newsprint by the window, under the masthead of the Pesh Trib."

NEVILLE CRISP: "Thank you, Reggie... for making my dreams come true."

NEVILLE CRISP (CONT'D): "But may I ask you one question before I go?"

REGINALD WINKIE: "Ask away, my boy!"

NEVILLE CRISP: "These triangular  fringed banners displayed against your wall... what are they?"

REGINALD WINKIE: "That my boy is a question a child might ask... but not a childish question.  They are Pashtun war-flags, carried into battle by our tribal enemies across the Frontier.  While others pay them scant regard, I'm convinced that one day soon they will be much sought-after for display by museums, galleries, and private collectors, as well as authors, illustrators and publishers back home and perhaps all around the civilized world."*

(*Sadly, as you many know, this turns out not to be the case.  The question
of what became of Reginald Winkie's Tribal Flag collection will be addressed
at a later date, but if you want more info on the subject, feel free to visit here:

NEVILLE CRISP: "Reginald Winkie... in addition to your poetic genius you are a true visionary, and the future will surely be in your debit.  It shall be my greatest honor and privilege to introduce myself to  Captain Hardigan of the Royal Horse Artillery and use him to seek out true narratives of blood, fury, and the affairs of state on the Grim Frontier, for you to publish here, in Peshawar!"

REGINALD WINKIE: "Well said, Crisp!  Now take that rifle leaning by the sculpture in the corner..."

REGINALD WINKIE (CONT'D): "...and a bottle of my quinine water..."

REGINALD WINKIE (CONT'D): "And get a move on!"

And so young Neville Crisp made for the veranda, where he found one Captain Elliot Hardigan, RHA, busy sketching the Peshawar skyline...

NEVILLE CRISP: "Captain Hardigan, I presume?"

HARDIGAN: "Everyone calls me Hardy.  And who pray tell might you be...? 

HARDIGAN (CONT'D): "An art critic newly-arrived from Oxfordshire?"

NEVILLE CRISP: "Certainly not.  Why presume such?"

HARDIGAN: "Who else would be damned fool enough to tart himself up in a Poshteen in August?  Where do you think you are, Canberra?  That's in South Australia you see, so their seasons are arse-backwards and they get snow in the bloody Summer!"

NEVILLE CRISP: "I shall tell you who.  The fellow Reginald Winkie has sent to accompany your battery to Dargai Cantonments.  Namely I, Neville Crisp, newly-contracted correspondent-at-large for The Peshawar Tribune."

HARDIGAN: "Oh I see.  Well then... who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who takes him to Dargai?  HAW-HAW-HAW!!!  What Winkie wants, Winkie gets, so it seems you and I will be two fools together on the road to Dargai.  Tell me, newly-appointed correspondent-at-large Neville Crisp -- ever heard a shot fired in anger before... or the sound the fellow beside you makes when his guts are skewered on a Ghazi's Chora?"

NEVILLE CRISP: "Certainly not.  This is my first time out of England."

HARDIGAN: "HAW-HAW!!!  A true freshman, eh?  No worries, Nev!  The road to Dargai is not too treacherous, and if we do meet trouble, chances are you'll come through it fine & dandy and right as rain.  Just keep your head down while you're taking notes for your articles!" 

HARDIGAN (CONT'D): "Now come take a gander at my sketch of the Peshawar skyline and tell me what you think..."

NEVILLE CRISP: "I think it's awful, and I sincerely hope you are a better Horse Battery Commander than sketch artist.  And yet... Hardy, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

In reply to which Captain Elliot "Hardy" Hardigan found himself in the unusual position of being at a complete loss for words.

(on the road to Dargai)


  1. Another entertaining missive and more characters to add to the swelling cast! I'm sure it will be an eventful trip!
    Best Iain

    1. Something tells me your instincts will prove to be correct as usual, Iain! Stay tuned...

  2. Thanks very much, Codsticker! Really appreciate you taking the time to post your comment. Rest assured there is more to come...